About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

How can we make our food healthier?

Our current food environments are flooded with products that are high in fat, salt and sugar, making it harder for people to choose healthy options. What’s around us shapes us, and when we are at a food shop choosing what to put in our baskets, we’re heavily influenced by the range of healthy options available, as well as our own preferences and habits.

Small, sustained changes to our diets can lead to big improvements for our health. Reducing the amount we eat by 250 calories a day can help individuals lose excess and unhealthy weight. To help achieve this, reformulating the foods we eat most often to make them healthier, without taking away from the enjoyment and quality, can help improve our health without drastically changing our shopping lists.

Bringing together voices from across the food sector

Much progress has already been made by industry to improve the health of our food through reformulation. As part of our reformulation project, we wanted to understand more about how to speed up the pace of reformulation and what sorts of policies might be needed to support producers and retailers to improve the health of the food.

In September 2022, we brought together a diverse group of stakeholders from across the food industry and advocacy space. It included retailers, manufacturers, food innovators and health campaigners. They all have expertise and experience in responding to consumer demand, developing new food and drink products and driving for change to make the food we all eat better for us.

Together, we set out to share the insights we’d gathered so far about what people eat and the potential for reformulation and to explore what conditions would be needed to build a food system that makes healthy options accessible and affordable for everyone.

To do this, we used futures methods to map out scenarios of what 2030 would look like for consumers, health and food availability if no new regulations or reformulation progress was made. This led to predictions of less healthy options available to consumers, a divide between retailers who chose to prioritise health and those who did not and greater inequality as people had fewer resources to be able to afford healthier options.

We wanted to imagine what types of policies and regulations could divert us away from this unhealthy future scenario. Using case studies of reformulation policy around the world and the expertise in the room, we set about prototyping policies to create interventions that would lead to greater reformulation, a focus on health and a more optimistic vision of our future food system and health status.

Here are some of the things we learnt about the sort of support the government could give and how industry can be encouraged and incentivised to accelerate reformulation.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm and willing to improve our health

All the stakeholders at the workshop spoke of the willingness of the sector to improve food products and an agreement that we all want to make the food we eat healthier. Partners are open to working together to achieve impact and create a more equitable and healthy food system.

We should look to build on the progress already being made

Manufacturers and retailers have been reformulating their products for decades, and there’s much to build on, for example reductions in salt across a range of products. We should look to build upon progress that has already happened in reformulation, learn lessons about what works and share the innovative practice taking place within the sector.

Any new policies should cover as much of the food sector as possible

Around 20-25% of the calories we consume are eaten out of the home – often from takeaways and restaurants. To make sure we’re having the greatest impact on improving diets and levelling the playing field across the sector, any new regulations or guidance need to apply to more of the places we get our food from.

Any action should address inequalities

As part of our futures methodology, we agreed that continuing on our current path could lead to increasing inequalities that need to be addressed in any new action. Obesity prevalence is highest among the most deprived groups in society – any intervention to reduce obesity should aim to reduce the inequalities in health currently experienced by the poorest in society.

What's next

We’ll be sharing our key insights and specific recommendations for government, industry and the wider sector in our reformulation research report later in 2022. This will highlight where we should all best focus efforts to reformulate food to achieve even greater benefits for our health.

If you would like to talk about Nesta’s reformulation work please get in touch with [email protected]


Lucy Turner

Lucy Turner

Lucy Turner

Senior Analyst, healthy life mission

Lucy is a senior analyst on the healthy life mission team.

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